Five Ways A Thermal Camera Drone Can Help You
- Drones with a thermal camera are helping to increase efficiency, improve safety, and maximise return on investment;
- Professionals are benefiting from drones and thermal cameras across a range of sectors, such as public safety and industrial inspection;
- Key tools include the DJI M200 drone series integrated with an XT2 thermal sensor, and the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual which has a thermal sensor built in;
- Read a collection of success stories which highlight the benefits of this technology;
- Find out how DJI Gold Partner Heliguy can support your enterprise drone programme.
From finding missing people to helping firefighters tackle a blaze, a drone equipped with a thermal camera has become a key tool.
Indeed, professionals across a range of sectors – including public safety, industry, and agriculture – are harnessing the power of this technology, thanks to its ability to save lives, increase safety, boost efficiency, and maximise return on investment.
Recognising this potential, DJI has invested significantly in the thermal-imaging field – releasing the powerful Zenmuse XT2 sensor which can be integrated with the M200 drone series, as well as the lightweight and quickly-deployable Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual drone, which has a thermal camera built in to it.
The results have been outstanding and the use cases and success stories have duly followed.
For instance, Commander Tom Madigan, of Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, has previously told Senators in California that he couldn’t underestimate the power of a drone with a thermal camera, while Wiltshire Police has said that a missing teenage girl would have been found dead if it wasn’t for a drone with thermal capabilities.
In this Heliguy Insider post, we explore the different ways that drones and thermal imaging can benefit operations, and how the DJI ecosystem supports this.
1: Finding Missing People
Drones with thermal cameras have a great track record of finding missing people; in many cases where ground searches have failed.
In one example, Wiltshire Police used its drone to find an 83-year-old woman, who was believed to be at a high and potentially immediate risk of harm.
A large on-the-ground team was sent to search a wooded area near to where she was last seen, while the police drone, equipped with a thermal-imaging camera, was dispatched and arrived at the scene around 30 minutes later.
Within an hour, the drone located a heat source on the edge of a wooded area and on closer inspection, the outline of a person laying on the ground could be seen.
The drone hovered over the area directly above to guide in officers on the ground and the patient was located.
In another case, team members from search and rescue, police and fire teamed up to search for a missing 88-year-old man who had gone missing from his home in Brownsville, Texas. A drone was deployed as part of their efforts.
At 11pm, the drone located him in tall grass in a field by a levee, a location that might have been difficult to locate by searchers working only with the information they could gather on foot and by car.
Brownsville’s Deputy Fire Chief Cesar Pedraza said he felt that the use of the drone saved the man’s life.
2: Fighting Fires
A drone with a thermal camera is an incredibly useful tool for firefighters.
This technology can see through smoke and detect hotspots, helping to provide vital situational awareness, which in turn shapes deployment strategy and improves crew safety.
London Fire Brigade demonstrated how effective this can be during a major warehouse fire in Beckenham.
The drone helped to monitor the extent of the fire, while the bright pink, orange and red areas in the thermal image showed what LFB described as ‘the deep-seated pockets of fire’ that the crews were tackling.
These two images demonstrate how vital a thermal camera can be. The first picture is useful, as it shows the view from above…
…but the thermal image gives a much clearer insight about the situation – helping firefighters see through the smoke and identify where the key hotspots are.
Meanwhile, Captain Ryan Gifford, of Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, explained how this technology helped crews fight a ‘fairly complicated’ structure fire.
He said: “Thermal imaging (on a drone) helps find a persistent hotspot which crews on the ground aren’t able to locate. By jumping up over the top of a structure and using thermal imaging we can get them to where they need to be.”
3: Law Enforcement
A drone with a thermal camera helped Lincolnshire Police land its first successful prosecution using a UAV.
The technology was deployed to uncover a cannabis farm, unveiling an operation which was capable of producing more than £50,000 worth of the Class B drug.
A police spokesman said: “We turned up and flew the drone 400ft across an open field, before hovering 50m from the property. The heat source was obvious and we scrolled through our different filters to highlight the heat in a number of different spectrums.
“The filming from the drone took one minute and 20 seconds, and it was only in the air for five minutes from start to finish.
“From here we passed the footage on to the investigating team who used this to get a court warrant.
“It was great to be able to show this evidence in court as it provides a visual that couldn’t really have been done in any other way. Admittedly, the National Police Air Service helicopter could have done this, but this would have been at a cost of about £3,000 per hour, and we did this as part of our routine duties.”
4: Infrastructure Inspections
When it comes to utility or building inspections, a drone equipped with a thermal camera can be a game-changer.
Thermal cameras enable you to see missing or damaged installation, water under roof membranes, external electrical issues, failed windows and many other problems.
Not only does a drone with a thermal camera give you key data, it also allows you to reach tough-to-access spots quickly, easily, and safely.
Drones with thermal cameras all also a vital tool for solar-panel inspections, heling to identify manufacturing defects, cracks, faulty inter-connectors, defective bypass diodes and temporary shadowing – but much quicker than traditional hand-held methods.
In fact, one study has shown that drones are a powerful tool for solar panel inspections, collecting data more than 50x faster than manual methods. This increased efficiency helps to boost profitability.
5: Precision Agriculture
Drones have become a key tool for agriculture, helping to identify in-field variability, improve farming practices, and optimise agronomic inputs. Equipping a UAV with a thermal camera can have numerous benefits.
For instance, optimising irrigation can be achieved by using thermal images to map the variability of water potential in the field.
Thermal cameras have also demonstrated high potential for the detection of water stress in crops due to the increased temperature of the stressed vegetation.
Usually, for agriculture, the terrain is scanned by using satellites with multispectral and thermal cameras. For precision agriculture, due to the needed high spatial resolution, drones are more suitable platforms than satellites for scanning. They offer much greater flexibility in mission planning than satellites and are also cheaper and quicker to deploy.
Using The DJI Eco-system
So, the case for using a drone with a thermal sensor has been made. But which DJI products are best suited for this type of work?
Boasting an IP43 rating, the M200 drones can carry the top-class DJI Zenmuse XT2 payload.
The XT2 is a robust dual-sensor thermal solution, with a 640 × 512 thermal resolution and a 12MP RGB camera. You can view the visual and thermal imagery simultaneously.
Praising the XT2-M200 Series set-up, Lee Newman, of London Fire Brigade, said: “We deployed the XT2 at a warehouse fire. It has the ability to see through smoke and was able to feed back information to our incident commander who was able to decide about how he was going to tactically deploy his resources to put out the fire.
“The XT2 and the drone was the perfect choice – it worked, kept crews away from danger and the incident commander got the information he needed.”
An alternative to using the M200 Series and the XT2 is the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual, which can also capture thermal and visible data.
With a thermal resolution of 160 x 120, the Dual isn’t as powerful as the XT2, but its advantage is that it is a lightweight and extremely portable solution, and is a cheaper option than the M200 and XT2 combination.
New York Fire Department has numerous drones, but its go-to aircraft is the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual.
Captain Michael Leo said: “Drones help massively with situational awareness and the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual is our main drone – I would say that we do 90% of our work with it.
“We have found it to be very reliable, fast to deploy, really easy to use, and the thermal is good enough for what we need.
“The thermal imaging tells us the temperature gradients and helps us to identify where the hotspots are, which allows us to deploy our resources in the right places, providing a faster response and helping us deploy the team on the ground as safely as possible.”
In some cases, public safety teams have both a Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual and an M200-XT2 set-up. It means that the Dual can be deployed quickly, followed by the M200.
Tom Shainberg, Senior Drone Pilot of Devon & Cornwall Police, said: “We have two M210s and because of the area we cover it can often take a little while to get it to where we need it, so the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual is filling the gap and gives us that initial tactic to get a thermal camera in the air very rapidly.”
Thermal imaging is nothing new, but when it is integrated with a drone it becomes an incredibly powerful tool which can be utilised across a range of industries.
Combining thermal and a UAV helps to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance safety, and the growing list of success stories really highlights the potential of this technology.
Heliguy is a DJI Gold Partner headquartered in the UK, as well as having a base in Texas, U.S. With more than 10 years of experience in the industry and serving major enterprise clients across a range of industry verticals, Heliguy can start, support and scale your enterprise drone programme. Drones can boost your ROI, increase efficiency and improve safety. To find out how Heliguy can help you, give us a call or send us an email.